Racing is alive and kicking in Meath
The Royal County cherishes the turf, writes Daragh Ó Conchúir
Wherever the history of National Hunt racing is written, it is layered in the green and gold of Meath.
The denizens of the Royal County revel in a rich tradition of Gaelic football, but it is in the jump racing world that they exert the greatest influence.
That regal standing is emphasised by Fairyhouse hosting the most valuable contest ever in the NH calendar in Ireland, the €500,000 BoyleSports Irish Grand National.
It has ever been thus, the fertile land and innate horsemanship creating a centre of excellence in a global industry.
Tom Dreaper is still considered one of the greatest trainers of all time, the man who produced the greatest steeplechaser ever in Arkle and his nearest challenger Flyingbolt. Both won the Irish Grand National and Dreaper was victorious in the race a record 10 times - including an unprecedented seven-in-a-row from 1960-66.
Tom trained 26 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, including the three major prizes: the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle five times each, and the Champion Chase six times.
He began training in 1931 at Greenogue and the tradition lives on through his son Jim, himself a four-time Irish Grand National victor, five-time Ryanair Gold Cup winner and multiple Cheltenham winner.
Des McDonogh prepared the pocket rocket Monksfield to win the first of his two consecutive Champion Hurdles 30 years ago and is still sending out winners.
The Carberrys are a legendary family, with the late Tommy one of the greatest jockeys to ever pull on a pair of boots. His sons, Paul and Philip, and daughter Nina emulated him by triumphing in the Irish Grand National, and at Cheltenham.
Tommy is part of an elite group of people to have both trained and ridden winners of the Irish Grand National, and no-one who was at Fairyhouse when Bobbyjo prevailed in 1998 will forget the emotion of the occasion, particularly with Paul in the saddle.
Like the Carberry siblings, the earliest memories for the Geraghtys revolve around horses and the buzz of Easter Monday at Fairyhouse. Sons of trainer Tucker, Ross and Barry both went on to enjoy success in the feature event.
Ross's day arrived in 2002 on The Bunny Boiler, who was trained by Tu Va maestro Noel Meade. Meade has known glory wherever it is to be had in the jumping sphere and is an eight-time champion trainer.
That win came 12 months after another highly successful Meath handler, Tony Martin enjoyed the ultimate thrill with Davids Lad.
What it means to a local trainer or jockey to win the Irish Grand National cannot be overestimated. Robbie Power enjoyed a spectacular campaign last year, including a triple Gold Cup-winning partnership with Sizing John but he was rarely as animated as when Our Duke bolted home in the Irish Grand National 12 months ago.
It is a surprise, given that there are few blanks in the relatively short time he has been training, but the magnificent Gordon Elliott has still to add this race to his CV. It would mean everything to the proud Meath man to do the business in front of his own.
That the juicy prizemoney garnered would place him in the box seat to finally usurp Willie Mullins and claim that treasured first champion trainer title would be a very welcome bonus.
To illustrate that Meath people can do it in all codes, Johnny Murtagh on the flat, Ger Lyons, Colin Keane, Edward Lynam and Declan McDonogh (son of Des) are just some of those that have flourished in and out of the saddle over the years, and continue to do so.
It is why the sponsors flock to support the industry in Meath. This year's Fairyhouse Easter Festival has attracted new supporters in Bank Of Ireland, Rybo, Cawley Furniture and Devenish Nutrition, whose dedication to the county is further evidenced by their sponsorship of the Meath senior football team.
They join a highly-valued core of existing marquee sponsors in BoyleSports, Ryanair, Keelings, Today FM, Bar One Racing and Carton House Hotel.
Because racing is a Meath thing.